NEA Arts Magazine

Global Conversations

The NEA's Partnerships with the U.S. Department of State


Elderly woman in a cloak against a water backdrop

A still from Faro-Goddess of Water, a film by Malian Salif Traoré, who visited Salt Lake City, Los Angeles, and Turkey as a participant in AFI Project: 20/20.  Image courtesy of PCAH

The NEA works with the U.S. Department of State on a variety of programs, so it was fitting that the Arts Endowment was included in its Global Cultural Initiative. This partnership between the State Department and U.S. cultural institutions promotes projects designed to connect foreign audiences with American artists and art forms, allow Americans to share their expertise in arts management and performance, and provide education about the arts and cultures of other countries. The initiative was launched in September 2006.

The NEA’s primary contribution to the initiative was the development of International Literary Exchanges. (See pages 7–8.) The NEA, however, also collaborates with the American Film Institute (AFI), the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities (PCAH), the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Institute of Museum and Library Services on AFI Project: 20/20, a program for U.S. and international filmmakers that fosters cross-cultural dialogue, exchange, and collaboration using film to overcome language and borders.

Currently 11 filmmakers have been invited to take part in the project, which provides opportunities for them to interact with their peers, screen their films, engage audiences in dialogue, and present master classes. To date, filmmakers representing 12 countries have participated in 20/20 and collectively visited 16 countries and 12 U.S. cities. Topics in this year’s films include the clash of tradition and modernity in Mali, the daily lives of U.S. truckers, and a host of ideas, places, and cultures rarely seen in popular U.S. films much less in China, Turkey, St. Louis, or Dallas.

The NEA also participates in the State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program, which invites foreign nationals recognized as potential leaders to the U.S. to develop and strengthen ties with Americans and American institutions. For those visiting with an arts and culture background, the NEA presents an overview of U.S. arts funding and arranges for them to meet with NEA discipline directors in their area of interest. In 2007–2008 the NEA hosted more than 175 cultural officials from 37 countries, including Vietnam, Iran, and Nigeria.

Working with the State Department, the NEA also assures the excellence and diversity of artists representing the U.S. at international visual arts exhibitions. The Federal Advisory Committee on International Exhibitions, chartered in 1989, is made up of seven distinguished experts on contemporary visual art in the U.S. The committee recommends artists to the State Department for such esteemed international festivals as the Venice and São Paolo Biennales.

These NEA/State Department partnerships are integral to the growth and vitality of international cultural exchanges and representative of the ability of art to create conversation among cultures. As 20/20 participant Mohammed Naqvi said, following the screening of his film Shame in Lithuania, “When we met the students and journalists, it was almost surprising at how much ‘America’ and ‘Americans’ are mistrusted and misrepresented. . . . I now more than ever see the importance of 20/20. It truly is a cultural exchange—and it truly does bring cultural misconceptions about each of us to the forefront and gives us an opportunity to address them.”